make better_mistakes

Apprenticeships as a Competitive Advantage

A business that chooses to train knowledge workers in whatever domain is in demand is likely to find that at the end of the day they have a competitive advantage. I think that you could start a small business today based solely on this principle and be a leader in your field within five years.

I recently read Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs a short book by Peter Cappelli, and found his argument incredibly compelling.1 For a variety of risk-averse reasons companies today make a practice of not filling job openings unless they have the perfect candidate. In the past, to fill a position which required special knowledge some companies would train promising candidates, but the nature of the jobs marketplace in the last few decades has made them overly-cautious of investing in training programs as they fear their employees will walk away after getting training.

For instance, a business that chooses to hire non-programmers and teach them to program will have a competitive advantage in their field. For this reason, based solely on the fact that LivingSocial started an apprenticeship program, I would place money on LivingSocial doing better than GroupOn in the next few years. LivingSocial recognized that without an influx of developers they wouldn’t be able to reach future business goals, and that it is cheaper to train devs than to (continually) recruit them.

I wonder if a web development consultancy cooperative could be formed based off of this insight. If you had a group of half experienced devs and half less experienced but dedicated trainees pairing together, you might find diamonds in the rough rather than paying market rates for diamonds. Of course, this sort of idea could be applied to any sort of business rooted in knowledge work, which is all of them.


  1. That’s an Amazon Affiliate link. The book was short, but this interview with the author is shorter and covers the key points.

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